Wildlife Species of the Week

ORANGUTAN (Pongo species)

The name orangutan is a Malaysian language that means “man of the forest”. In the lowland forests in which they reside, orangutans live solitary existences. They are found in rainforests on the Southeast Asian islands. Orangutans are not as powerfully built as the gorilla but are larger than the chimpanzee.

There are three species of orangutan – the Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli – which differ a little in appearance and behavior. The Tapanuli is the third species of orangutan which was announced in November, 2017 with no more than 800 individuals in existence. The Tapanuli orangutan is the most endangered of all great apes and lives in North Sumatra, but is genetically and behaviorally distinct from the two other species.

Orangutans are the largest arboreal animals, spending more than 90 percent of their waking hours in the trees. During the day most of their time is divided equally between resting and feeding. Orangutans are predominantly ripe-fruit eaters, although they consume more than 400 different types of food, including invertebrates and, on rare and opportunistic occasions, meat. Almost every night orangutans construct a sleeping platform in the trees by bending and breaking branches, leaves, and twigs. Unlike the African apes, orangutans frequently use vegetation to protect themselves from the rain.

Orangutans are often termed as gardeners of the forest, as they play a vital role in seed dispersal within their habitats. They live in tropical forests and prefer forest in river valleys and floodplains of their respective islands. Orangutans have an extremely low reproductive rate which makes their populations highly vulnerable. Females give birth to one infant at a time about every 3-5 years, thus taking a long period recover from population declines. With the consistently increasing human pressure, orangutans face an increasing risk of extinction.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans species as critically endangered species. Although the IUCN has not yet evaluated the Tapanuli orangutan because of its population (fewer than 800 individuals). Orangutans are an easy target for hunters because they’re large and slow targets. They are killed for food or in retaliation when they move into agricultural areas and destroy crops. This usually occurs when orangutans can’t find the food they need in the forest. Females are hunted most often. When caught with offspring, the young are often kept as pets. The pet trade is a major problem.